Ó CIARṀACÁIN (ENGLISH RULE)
The 16th and 17th century were the centuries in which the Gaelic Irish came face to face with the reality of English conquest. In 1569 and then again in 1579 the Fitzgerald overlords of Munster involved their subordinates in rebellions of tragic proportions against English rule in Ireland. The Munster province, in particular, experienced a great wave of destruction and depopulation and the once royal O Ciarṁaic (Ó Ciarṁacáin) sept fell into a state of servitude and deprivation. For the purposes of this surname study several events of the 16th and 17th century are important to note in order to follow the evolution of the surname Ó Ciarṁacáin: “Surrender and Regrant”, Fiants, Civil Survey, 1659 census and the process of surname anglicization.
To the English mind the Irish system of land tenure seemed disorganized and primitive. In 1534 a new law on inheritance was passed which was called the “Law of Surrender and Regrant.” To understand the complexity of the situation one must know that under the old Gaelic law chieftains had not owned the land. It belonged to the tribe; the chieftains were only empowered to redistribute it within the tribe. Under the new English law, however, those who claimed land in Ireland and surrendered it to Henry VIII would have his land returned back and a title would be created for him, which would be inherited thereafter according to the English law of primogeniture. Prior to “surrender and regrant” the Irish chieftains and their followers alike had unlimited access to grazing and farming lands but thereafter found themselves impoverish in a way they had never imagined. The Ó Ciarṁacáins, now a cadet branch of the O’ Ciarṁaic chieftains, had already lost their eligibility for the chieftaincy due to the fact that their royal extended family (derbfine) had failed to produce a chieftain. Thus at this time, with the addition of surrender and regrant, the Ó Ciarṁacáins found themselves in a doubly weak position. Then in 1543 Murrough O’Brien, King of Thomond, journeyed to London and surrendered the royalty rights and title of his family in exchange for in English earldom. The O’Brien entourage to London included a number of his subordinate lords including the chieftain O’Grady who was knighted at the time. Thereafter O’Grady became the lord of the barony of Small County, (see Map below) which roughly corresponded to the Eoghanacht Ainy territory. The red arrow indicates that in the mid-1500’s O’Kerwick was still significant enough to be mentioned but that “O’Grady L” was the lord of the area. The Ó Ciarṁacáins by this time had come to be small cottiers.
By the 1580s the Desmond power was broken and the pacification of Munster completed. Thereafter a number of “rebels” were pardoned and their names were recorded in the “fiant” books. In 1587 the name “John O Kerymakyn” was recorded. He was listed as being from “Ballynygearde” in County Limerick. For a study of the Ó Ciarṁacáin surname this is an important document and deserves two comments. First of all the Anglo-Irish magistrate disregarded the accented “ṁ” (pronounced like a “w”) and recorded the name as “ O Kerymakyn” when it should have been “O’ Kerwakyn (Ó Ciarṁacáin). But more importantly it indicates that the surname “Irwin” had not yet descended upon Ó Ciarṁacáin as of the 1587 date of pardon.
The Cromwellian colonization of Ireland took place between 1652 and 1660 and during these years the Irish felt the brunt of Cromwell’s policies. Executions, land confiscations, and the banishment of native Irish to “Hell or Connaught” took its toll in the Munster province especially hard. Between 1654 and 1656 a “Civil Survey” was conducted for the purpose of paying British solders for their military service during the Cromwell campaigns. Their military pay was to be paid for by land previously owned by the Irish. Upon examining the parish of Knockainy (where the Ó Ciarṁacáins had been clustered for centuries) it was found that the entire parish had a total of “eighty one cabins” plus “ a few cabins.” Therefore I would say that after the Desmond rebellion and Cromwell campaigns that there were only about eighty-five “cabins” in all of Knockainy.
Given the fact that Knockainy parish contains 6087 acres then there was only one cabin left standing per seventy-five acres. How many people lived in these cabins? If it was one per cabin then that means eighty-five people… two people per cabin means one hundred seventy people… and so forth. As a reasonable estimate of five people per cabin then this indicates that Knockainy parish, at Civil Survey time, may have only had about four or five hundred surviving residents. What happened to the numerous O’ Ciarṁaics and their cadet branch of Ó Ciarṁacáin who had lived and thrived there since generations immemorial? Could some of them have truly marched off to “Hell or Connaught” and remained in Connaught where their descendants live today? Could some have been sold into slavery in the new world where their descendants live today? Did most of them perish in the rebellions and campaigns of the 16th and 17th centuries? All of these questions, left unanswered, could, and probably do, have a definite relevance as far as the rarity of the Munster Irwins (Ó Ciarṁacáin) are concerned. Another point to be mentioned is that, according to this Civil Survey, not one Irwin, O’ Ciarṁaic or Ó Ciarṁacáin is listed as owning as much as one square inch of land indicating that they certainly did not fare well, economically, during this century. Two hundred and fifty years later the 1901 census of Ireland indicates that, for the most part, the residency pattern of Munster Irwin’s is overwhelming clustered in, abutting or near County Limerick. This I would postulate means that for centuries (Norman times through Cromwell) that Ó Ciarṁacáin people (later to be surnamed Irwin) were tied to the land in a form of vassalry with no means to go anywhere else except to stay put no matter how adverse the situation may have been.
In 1659 there was a “census” of Ireland taken. I searched the index for this census and although it is not complete Ireland-wide it is complete for the province of Munster with the exception of four baronies in County Cork. Given the fact that many people believe that Irwin is always of Scottish origin in Ireland the data from this census, regarding the Irwins of Munster, is relevant. The census pays attention to the number of “new” Scotch and English settlers in Ireland. The Scottish were found to be widespread in Ulster with the exception of County Monaghan and most of County Antrim. But interestingly enough this census index states “no Scotch settlers in the provinces of Munster and Connaught.” I agree that “no” is a strong word but suffice to say that, for Irwin surname purposes, the odds are that there were few, if any, Scottish people in Munster in 1659 who could have been the source of Scottish Munster Irwins.
The census also goes on to list a number of interesting ratios. In Connaught and Munster the Irish outnumbered the English by ten to one. In Ulster the ratio was 1-1/2 Irishmen to every one Scotch/Englishman. In Leinster the ratio was 5-1/2 Irishmen to one English/Scotchman. So from these census records it can be derived that the odds are extremely low that a Scottish person relocated from Scotland circa the mid-1600s and gave rise to the Irwins of Munster. Another point of interest before leaving the 1659 census is that for all of the province of Munster there was not one Irwin recorded and I postulate quite simply that the reason for this is that there were no Irwins (land holding Scottish ones) there in 1659. Lastly and most importantly, as far as the surname Ó Ciarṁacáin (Irwin) study is concerned, we see that during the 16th and 17th century Irish surnames were becoming anglicized and I will deal with that issue now.
The successive invasions of Ireland from the Normans to Cromwell, culminating in the destruction of the Gaelic order had a profound and lasting effect on the surnames of the Irish people. In the wake of the collapse of the Gaelic order there set in, among the surviving Irish people, the fashion of changing Irish into English surnames. Thence forward an “O” or “Mac” to a man’s name was no recommendation in the eyes of the powers that ruled the country. The people were taught or forced to believe that they must have an English surname, or at least an English version of their Irish surname. Hence the almost wholesale rejection of the “O” and “Mac”. To reduce one’s name as much as possible to the level of English pronunciation, to give it an English appearance, to modify it in some way and to some degree was almost a condition of life.
The anglicization of Irish surnames was accomplished by five general methods: by phonetics, by translation, by attraction, by assimilation and by substitution. In the phonetic method the surname was written down more or less as it was pronounced but without any regard to the Irish spelling. In the translation method many families adopted an English surname which was supposed to be a translation of the Irish surname but was, in most cases, incorrect. In the attraction method a surname of comparatively rare occurrence was often attracted and confounded with a better known surname of somewhat similar sound. In the assimilation method an Irish name is assimilated to a foreign name (usually English or Scottish). The Irish surname, “Ó Ciarṁacáin,” was anglicized by the process of “assimilation” in that it was assimilated to a British surname of similar sound.
In English Ó Ciarṁacáin is pronounced “O’ Kirwickin.” Without the Irish prefix “O” then “O Kirwickin” becomes “Kirwikin” and thereafter came to be Irwin which is a British surname borne almost entirely by Scottish and English colonists in the northern Ulster province of Ireland.
Also I might add that some “Ó Ciarṁacáins, instead of becoming Irwin, may have become Irvin/Irvine. The confusion between the “v” and the “w” is due to the fact that the pronunciation of Irish consonants depends upon whether or not it is “slender” or “broad.” The dot over certain consonants, called the seimhiu, denotes an “aspirated” letter, the sound of which is very different from an“unaspirated” one. The “ṁ” in Ó Ciarṁacáin with a dot (seimhiu) over it is a broad consonant and in this case pronounced like a “w.” A slender consonant is a consonant flanked by “e” and/or “i.” A broad consonant is a consonant flanked by “a” and/or “o” or “u.” Given the fact that Ó Ciarṁacáin with a broad consonant “ṁ” is flanked by an “a” it was properly pronounced like a “w”. However for an Anglo-Irish magistrate, improficient in Irish, it would have been an easy mistake to consider the “ṁ” in Ó Ciarṁacáin as a slender consonant and pronounce it like a “v” and hence Ó Ciarṁacáin would become assimilated to the British surnames of Irvin and Irvine.
Before leaving the topic of anglicization I must clarify one very important point. “Officially,” as far as the Anglo-Irish magistrates were concerned, there were Irish people in Munster surnamed Irwin. But “unofficially,” for centuries after surname anglicization took place, the Irish people continued to speak Irish and use the old Irish surnames in the conversational language. The great famine (1845-1850) and its aftermath of death and emigration dealt a near fatal blow to the Irish language and the use of Irish surnames but as late as 1851 (census) the percentage of County Limerick Irish speakers was 37.4% with the note that “lower classes generally speak Irish” and the “middle classes speak English.” Given the fact that the Ó Ciarṁacáin (Irwin) people were economically of the lower classes, as late as 1851, most of them spoke Irish and used the Ó Ciarṁacáin surname. Thus the original Ó Ciarṁacáin surname continued to live on, unaffected by any changes in the English form, wherever the Irish language continued to be spoken. And so, not only Ó Ciarṁacáin, but most Irish surnames were able to be recovered and recorded that would otherwise have disappeared forever.
Ainy and English Rule
As Munster’s patroness of sovereignty Ainy was also regarded as Munster’s foremost Banshee. Banshee, quite simply, means an “otherworld woman.” Up until the 16th century beautiful Ainy had bestowed sovereignty to those whom she favored. She granted provincial sovereignty to the Gaelic Eoghanachts in the 3rd century. She granted territorial sovereignty to “The Ciarṁac” chieftain and his kindred in the 7th century. Then in the 13th century she granted the sovereignty of Desmond (south Munster)to her consort Maurice Fitzgerald (1stEarl of Desmond). Up to and including the Normans, Ainy’s major role was as protectoress and bestower of sovereignty.
Beginning with the Desmond Wars of the 1500’s and continuing on through the Cromwell campaigns of the mid-17th century the establishment of English rule in Knockainy and throughout Munster came to be established. Henceforth Ainy’s major role changed and became that of an enigmatic being, a strange voice crying out from the portals of the unknown in anguish over the demise of her province.
The English never bothered to consult or confide in Ainy regarding her land, her children, or provincial sovereignty. They looked upon Ainy with disdain and never consorted or mated with her, as did the previous rulers. As a result of not being in tune with Ainy, her land and her people, English rule was one of death, destruction, famine, disease, and barbarity.
The myth of Ainy and the English in Munster was that of her changed role, which became that of an old Banshee who foretold and lamented the deaths of those who have “O,” and “Mac” in their surnames, that is, Munster families of Noble Gaelic descent.
To better explain British rule in Munster (late 1500s and Desmond wars) and how it affected the Ó Ciarṁacáin (Irwin) surname (nearly extinct) I add here the following Quotes and Illustrations:
“The land grabbing of Elizabeth’s officials resulted in an uprising involving settlers of the Pale and Munster. Elizabeth recognized the provocation and pardoned the rebels, except James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald: he had done the unforgivable by giving a religious reason for his rebellion. He went into exile in Europe, but returned in a crusading mood in 1579. He was joined in rebellion by the Earl of Desmond and by some lords of the Pale. Elizabeth sent an army of 8,000 and this time there was no quarter. The rebel leaders died in battle or were executed. This suited government officials who continued the confiscation of land. Munster was subjected to a plantation involving 4,000 new colonists. The relative size of this number is better appreciated when we see that at the end of the 16th century the population of Ireland was, by some estimates, under one million. Most were in Leinster and Connaught – war had almost denuded Ulster and Munster of inhabitants.”
“The English commanders in Ireland decided to make Munster a dead area. No person or animal was to be spared and the whole countryside was to be flattened. Munster was invaded during March, when traditionally the herds of cattle were moved on to the plains, and crops were just about to be sown. The people who survived the first massacres died of famine. Edmund Spenser was a poet and courtier who went to Ireland as Secretary to the Lord Deputy. He acquired land in Ireland and wanted to settle there. After the execution of Desmond he was given 4,000 acres of land in Munster. He described Munster before and after the invasion: ‘Sure it is...a most beautiful and sweet country as any is under heaven; seamed throughout with many goodly rivers, replenished with all sorts of fish...with goodly woods...good ports and havens opening upon England and Scotland, as inviting us to come to them.’ ‘That in short space... a most populous and plentiful country was suddenly left devoid of man and beast; yet, sure, in all that was there perished not many by the sword, but all by the extremity of famine which they themselves had wrought.’ To quell resistance, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Military Governor of Munster ordered that: ‘the heads of all those which were killed in the day should be cut off from their bodies and brought to the place where he encamped at night, and should there be laid on the ground by each side of the way leading into his own tent so none couldcome into his tent for any cause but commonly he must pass through a lane of heads.’
“starvation of 30,000 in six months of the Elizabethan Wars in Munster...that from Dingle to the Rock of Cashel not the lowing of a cow nor the voice of the ploughman was that year to be heard were indications of the success of the authorized efforts to root out the Irish.”
“Virtually halving the total population in one decade of the 17th century was an acceptable consequence of confiscation and facilitated the plantation of more and more immigrant settlers.”
Then less than 100 years later, in the mid 1600’s (Cromwell) the status and population of the Ó Ciarṁacáin kindred sank even lower during the Cromwell wars:
“He (Cromwell) arrived in Ireland in 1649...By the time the struggle was over, almost two years later, one quarter of the Catholic population was dead, and those found wandering the country orphaned or dispossessed were sold into slavery in the West Indies. The ‘Act of Settlement”, drawn up in 1652, confiscated land from the native Irish on a massive scale. All transplantable persons’ were ordered to move west of the river Shannon by May 1654 on pain of death; in the famous phrase, it was a matter of indifference whether they went to ‘Hell or Connaught.’ The mass exodus continued for months, with many of the old and sick dying on the journey. Cromwell’s soldiers were paid off with gifts of appropriated land and remaining as settlers, constituted a permanent reminder of English injustice...In 1641 the percentage of land in Ireland owned by Roman Catholics was 59%. In 1688 it was 22% and by 1703 it was 14%. The Protestant population, about 10% of the total lived in fear of an uprising by the vast majority of dispossessed and embittered Catholics. In order to keep the native Catholics in a position of powerlessness, a number of acts were passed collectively known as the Penal Codes.”
“The majority of Catholics remained as laborers on their own land. Many were utterly displaced and took to the woods as outlaws. Catholics who were allowed to rent land lived in fear of dispossession. They were subject to higher rents than the colonists, and had shorter leases, often renewable half-yearly.”
“During period of great upheaval or transplantation, the leaders of the sept or clan might have been killed or forcibly removed to other areas. In many of these instances however, the bulk of the family remained near their traditional lands, although powerless.”
“In 1659 the population of the Barony of Small County was 120 (English) and 2,950 (Irish) for a total of 3,070 inhabitants in the entire barony.”
“A massive programme of confiscations began aimed at transplanting all Irish landowners to Connaught. The main class affected by transplantation was that of influential landowners and those at the very top of the scale. Those at the bottom, the tenants and landless, remained where they were.”
“In 1641, Ireland’s population was 1,466,000 and in 1652, 616 thousand. According to Sir William Petty, 850 thousand were wasted by the sword, plague, famine, hardship and banishment during the Cromwell wars of 1641-1652. At the end of the war, vast numbers of Irish men, women and children were forcibly transported to the American colonies by the English government. These people were rounded up like cattle, and in clearing the ground for the adventurers and soldiers these people were transported to Barbados and the English plantations in America. It was a measure beneficial to Ireland, which was thus relieved of a population that might trouble the planters; it was a benefit to the people removed, who might thus be made English and Christians... a great benefit to the West India sugar planters, who desired men and boys for their bondsmen, and women and Irish girls...to solace them...estimates vary between 80 thousand and 130 thousand regarding the amount of Irish sent into slavery in America and the West Indies during the period 1651-1660.”
In the aftermath of the Desmond Wars (1579) and the Cromwell Wars of the mid 1600’s the status of the Ó Ciarṁacáin kindred is as follows:
“The vast majority of poor tenants eked out a living from agriculture. They had either short leases for limited amounts of land or were simply tenants at will on small holdings sometimes 10 or 12 acres but more often no more than an acre or two. Nearly all were subject to ‘rack-renting’ by the middlemen. The system worked like a screw press. The increase in the rent of any farm at the close of any half year might be small but the screw still went on revolving, the pressure increasing until at least human nature could no longer endure it; agrarian outrages burst out and on these the man hunt followed.”
“In 1785 Britain’s Attorney General John Fitzgibbon stated: “I am very well acquainted with the province of Munster, and I know that it is impossible for human wretchedness to exceed that of the miserable peasantry in that province. I know that the unhappy peasantries are ground to powder by relentless landlords. It is impossible for them any longer to exist in the extreme wretchedness under which they labour. A poor man is obliged to pay 6 pounds for an acre of potatoes, which 6 pounds he is obliged to work out with his landlord at 5 pence per day. The lower order of the people of Munster are in a state of oppression, abject poverty, sloth, dirt and misery not to be equaled in any other part of the world.”
“The numerous cottier class...the wretched hovels in which they and usually their animals lived; or it would be more accurate to say, sheltered themselves by night...the wretched patches of garden which were attached to these.”
“The cottages of the Irish, which are called cabins, are the most miserable hovels that can well be conceived: they generally consist of only one room; mud kneaded with straw is the common material of the walls. These are rarely above 7 ft. high. They are about 2 ft. thick and have only a door which lets in the light instead of a window. Half a dozen children, almost naked, were sleeping on a little straw with a pig, a dog, a cat, a chicken and a duck (Ireland in 1780’s).”
“The removal of Ireland’s chiefs created a leaderless but not a submissive nation. The most obvious cohesive element in Irish culture was religion. Dismantling their religious institution did not however subdue them for they still had their language. Closing their schools did not defeat them nor did their removal to the bogs and the mountains. The undoing of the Irish people was the English legal system. Using it the English government gained control of Irish land, caused starvation and deported thousands to the cane fields of the Caribbean. From the English point of view this was all right and proper. The only problem was it didn’t work, for the Irish were still needed to labour in the fields.”
“...it became clear to those who spoke it (Irish) that they could no longer rid themselves of the English tongue than of English rule. Abandoned by the upper classes it retreated both geographically (westwards) and socially downwards throughout the 18th century. Gaelicculture ceased to be aristocratic: its custodians were now the peasantry. Huddled over the turf fire, deeming themselves lucky if they had buttermilk on their potatoes, they saw English as the language of the ‘Teach Mor’ or ‘big house’, the new palladian mansions in which the landlords drank and gambled and exchanged ideas on how to rid the district of Whiteboys (one of the several secret societies born of peasant discontent).”
“...the end of the Cromwellian campaigns, before the policy of “To Hell or Connacht” was enforced. Even then, the human population was so depleted in some areas that wolf packs, going out of control, roamed the countryside threatening livestock and people in the settlements that remained. Cromwell’s administrators took a variety of steps in the war on wolves. In 1652, for example, a public wolf hunt was organized at Castlerock, on the outskirts of Dublin. In addition, the export of wolfhounds was forbidden, and any Irish fleeing the country were to have their wolfhounds confiscated. Huntsmen were also ordered to keep packs of dogs that included a couple of wolfhounds. Licenses to shoot wolves were issued and land was granted to some adventurers on condition that they paid part of their rent in wolves’ heads...the bounty for a priest was set at 5 pounds the same as for a male wolf...in his wake (Cromwell) starvation and degradation were so acute that scenes of cannibalism were widely reported...burnt crops and houses...farm animals were slaughtered and while the soldiers gorged themselves, the Irish went hungry. As the Army moved into the hills, the residents moved ahead of them, abandoning homes and animals. The soldiers feasted, slept in comfort and burned the houses in the morning.” (The above information was written by Des Johnson in his “Miss Eire” column written in the Irish Echo newspaper (New York) in the January 19-25, 1994 issue).
As so after the devastation of the Desmond and Cromwell Wars the status of the Irish had degenerated to that of the lowest of servile classes. TheÓ Ciarṁacáin surname, once numerous in it’s Knockainy land of origin, was now almost extinct. As was the case with other Irish septs, at this tragic time, the only princely thing that the Ó Ciarṁacáin kindred survivors had was their chiefly and noble surname but even that would be taken away from them by means of Anglicization and even further decimation would come as a result of the Great Potato Famine (1845-1850).
THE TUDOR CONQUEST (16TH CENTURY)
Farm animals were slaughtered and while the soldiers gorged themselves the Irish went hungry. As the army moved into the hills the Irish residents moved ahead of them, abandoning homes and animals. The solders feasted, slept in comfort and burned the houses and villages in the morning.
Cromwell landed in Ireland in 1640 with a Puritan army of 17 thousand men. They were Bible reading, psalm singing, fanatical “soldiers of god” who hated Catholics. They looked at Ireland as a Promised Land assigned to them, the chosen people, by god. It was their mission to extirpate by sword the heathen Papist Catholics. To keep the troops venom at a boiling point there were chosen to travel with the troops, Puritan preachers distinguished for their demoniacal hatred of Irish Catholics.
Following the Williamite wars and the Treaty of Limerick (1690) the “Second Phase” of the Penal Laws went into effect thereby further reducing the surviving Irish into a state of abject poverty in their own land.
UNARMED AND LEADERLESS
Under the Penal Laws it became illegal for the Irish to bear arms. Few young men remained in Ireland and those that did were inadequately armed, leaderless and no match for the British army of occupation.
THE WEEKLY SOLDIERS PAY
Each Saturday the weekly exaction of the solders pay was extorted from the Irish populace with incredible atrocity. With bugles sounding and drums beating the soldiers entered the various houses and pointing their muskets at the tenants threatening them with instant death if the sum demanded was not immediately given. If the continued payment of these taxes had exhausted the means of the people then beds, sheets, dishes, furniture and even the garments of the women were torn off their person and sold in the market place for a small sum. As such every Saturday bore a resemblance to the day of Judgment and the clangor of the trumpet smote the people with terror, almost equal to Doomsday.
In the years 1652 and 1653 the plague, following the devastating wars, had swept away whole counties so that one might travel 20 or 30 miles and not see a living creature.
DEPOPULATION AND WOLF PACKS
By the end of the Cromwellian Campaigns the human population of Ireland was so depleted that wolf packs, growing out of control roamed the countryside threatening livestock and people in the settlements that remained. The bodies of many wandering orphans and widows whose husband or father had been killed or exiled or died were preyed upon by wolves. Scenes of starvation and degradation were so acute that scenes of cannibalism were widely reported.
SLAVES ABROAD - SLAVES AT HOME
When the Cromwell campaign was over, the surviving Irish had to be dealt with. The removal of Ireland’s chieftains created a leaderless but not a submissive society. Ireland’s religious institutions were dismantled, their schools were closed, their language was scorned and their names were anglicized. Most men of military age had been killed. Many of the survivors had been sent to the British colonies as slaves. The women, children and old men who survived on their ancestral lands were spared because they were needed to labor in the fields of their new English landlords.
No. 9 and 10
A SMOTHERED WAR AND 1798
From the Treaty of Limerick in 1690 until 1798 Ireland was in a state of “smothered war.” In 1798 a futile revolution took place and was cruelly suppressed.
In England the Irish were depicted as subhuman gorillas thus making their decimation acceptable to the public of Britain.
Under British rule Irish music, art, literature and education institutions ceased to exist in the open but not in secret.
The priest was banned and hunted with bloodhounds and forced to say Mass in the woods and “behind the hedges” clandestinely for fear of death.
CATHOLIC PRIESTS TORTURED AND HANGED
In 1650 the bounty for a captured priest was five pounds. Once captured they were tortured, hanged and sometimes drawn and quartered.
THE IRISH ‘CABIN’
The cottages of the Irish, called ‘cabins’, are the most miserable looking hovels that can be conceived. The furniture, in very many, consisting only of a pot for boiling potatoes, a bit of a table and one or two broken stools. Beds are not found universally, the family lying on straw.
By the end of the 17th century very few Irish people owned their own land. It had been confiscated and owned by “absentee landlords” who charged an ever escalating exorbitant rent. When the Irish tenant could not pay the rent he was evicted. With the help of the British army their houses were thrown down and they were turned out in the depth of winter to exist as best they could.
Following the evictions the dazed people stayed on to live in the ruins of their old homes but even the ruins were later demolished, burned and scattered so that the homeless people had no other choice but to move on. With no place to go they often relocated as close to their farmstead as possible in “scalpeens” which were holes in the ground covered with sticks and turf that lodged entire families.
TO HELL OR CONNAUGHT
The “Act of Settlement” drawn up in 1652 confiscated land from the native Irish on a massive scale. All “transportable persons” were ordered to move west of the river Shannon by May 1654 on pain of death. Under the famous phrase it was a matter of indifference whether they went to “Hell or Connaught.” The mass exodus continued for months with many of the old and sick dying on the journey.
In time returnees from Connaught and those who had managed not to leave relocated as close to their old farmsteads as possible into “scalpeens” which were holes in the ground covered with sticks and turf that lodged entire families. They were allowed to return back and stay for one reason! The new English landlords needed them to work the land which was once theirs.
Parts of Connaught plus County Clare were reserved for the Irish (area in white). It is possible that some Ó Ciarṁacáins (Irwin) from Munster relocated there in the mid-1600s and still live there. It is also possible that some Ó hEireaṁóins (Irwin) from Leinster relocated there in the mid-1600s and still live there. In County Sligo plus parts of Mayo and Roscommon Irwins (Scottish-English planters) were recorded as being there.
IRWIN TWO ACRE “POTATO PATCH” AT RATHAINY
In 1641 Ireland’s population was 1,466,000 and in 1652, following Cromwell’s genocide of the Irish race, there were only 850,000. Nearly 65% of the inhabitants of Ireland were wasted by sword, plague and famine. Irish men, women and children were forcibly transported to the Barbados and the American colonies as slaves by the English government. They were rounded up like cattle and their ancestral lands were taken away and used to pay the English soldiers for their military services.
The surviving Irish Catholics remaining in Ireland were allowed to stay for one reason: to work for the new English landlord on his stolen land. In Knockainy the land was cleared of its small farms and made into vast pasturelands. The Irish worked as laborers on these pasturelands and received no money payment but only the “right” to live on a one or two acre parcel of land often times referred to as a “potato patch.” The Irish laborer’s only food source were potatoes grown on their “potato patches” since all other food and produce was shipped from Ireland to England at gunpoint.
At this time the Ó Ciarṁacáin family, now surnamed Irwin, lived on a 2 acre farmstead at Rathainy where they had their potato patch. They worked the land for the wealthy landlord until the early 1800’s when Eóin Irwin married Mary Carroll and they moved to a neighboring farmstead at Ballycahill consisting of 12 acres. At Ballycahill Eóin Irwin built his stone, thatched “cabin” and raised his family of nine.
THE IRWIN “CABIN”
When considering the site for a new house in 19th century Ireland material preparations were of secondary concern. Out of respect for the Fairy population of the area, sites of ancient occupation or activity such as pre-historic earthworks or megaliths were avoided. By consulting with the oldest living inhabitants the builders also hoped to avoid accidentally blocking routes taken by local divinities or by spirits of the mortal dead on their funeral path to the grave. Throughout Ireland a strong belief persisted that if a new house was constructed across a Fairy path the inhabitants would suffer. To avoid these calamities four piles of stone were left as markers at the corners of the chosen site. If the “Noble People” left them undisturbed during the following night work might safely start thereafter. It was in this context that the Irwin cabin at Ballycahill came to be constructed.
Above is a photo of the Irwin cabin as it looked when it was first built. Typical of Irish “cabins” at the time it measured approximately twelve feet by twenty four feet. It had three windows, one door, one fireplace and a thatched roof. In 1841 (census) some 40% of Irish “homes” were one room “mud cabins”. As late as 1861 (census) there were 580,000 mud cabins still in Ireland occupied by an average of eleven people, plus whatever animals they possessed. Given that the population of Ireland in 1861 was about 5.8 million it seems that, according to these unbelievable statistics, most everybody in Ireland lived in small, overcrowded, mud or stone cabins in residence with farm animals.
IRWIN “CABIN” RUINS AT BALLYCAHILL
In the Knockainy area Irish Catholic survivors of the Cromwell Wars of the mid 1600’s had their lands confiscated and were meted out 2 acre parcels of land on which to live. They were charged exhorbitant rents and it was necessary for two families (each on a 1 acre “potato patch” parcel) to occupy the 2 acre parcel in order to pay the high rents.
At Rathainy the Irwin and Carroll family occupied a 2 acre parcel together. It was circa 1809 that Eóin (John) Irwin married his neighbor Mary Carroll. It was also at this time that Eóin Irwin and Mary Carroll moved a few farmsteads from their Rathainy farmstead to the neighboring townland of Ballycahill. It was at Ballycahill that Eóin Irwin was able to occupy a 12 acre plot of land and construct a house for his family which would number 9.
By The mid-1800s there were only a handful of Irwin families still living on their ancestral Knockainy lands. Three of these families, through DNA Testing, have been proven to be very closely related. According to ySearch.org QYV7H (Irwins of Rathainy and Ballycahill, Limerick), AURXF (Irwins of Kilfrush) and GYZQH (Irwins of Bulgadine, Limerick) all share a very rare allele of 10-11 for DYS 459 A and B.
The above families of Rathainy, Ballycahill and Kilfrush still retain the spelling of their surname as Irwin. The above family of Bulgadine left county Limerick and after a brief residency in county Kilkenny went to America where their surname became “Ervin” and still remains as such.
POTATO FAMINE OR GREAT HUNGER?
By the mid 1850s, following the Irish Potato “Famine”, the native province of the Ó Ciarṁacáins suffered another loss of nearly 24% of its people. When the potato crop failed (1845-1850) it was a misnomer to refer to it as a “famine”. More and more historians are referring to it as the “Great Hunger.” The reason being that there was not a food famine in Ireland at all during the 1845 to 1850 period. Total food production in Ireland was more than adequate enough to feed its people without the potato. The fact of the matter was that the Irish people for centuries had been socially and economically engineered by the British to subsist solely on potatoes while the rest of the edible produce from Irish farmers was shipped to England at gunpoint for a hefty profit. In fact even the best potatoes were shipped to England while the Irish people in Ireland ate the “lumper” potatoes which were an inferior potato susceptible to the blight. And when the blight came to Ireland in 1845 Britain allowed its Irish “subjects” to starve or be “shoveled out” (shipped) to America.